Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Alinea at Home

My wonderful husband bought me the Alinea cookbook (autographed by Grant Achatz!) as a wedding gift. (I still think I won with the hand-made heavy metal quilt, but I digress.) Anyway, as I was saying... the Alinea cookbook is absolutely amazing. Gorgeous photos, clean look. And since Joel and I have actually been lucky enough to eat at Alinea twice, I'm super excited about trying my hand at some of the recipes. Super excited and, well, scared. For those of you have never even heard of Alinea, it's all molecular gastronomy. What's that mean? Well, go look at the pictures here and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Anyway, so I'm scared to try out these recipes. They're extremely complicated, call for a huge number of steps and ingredients, and since I don't eat pork or shellfish, there are a bunch I'd have to figure out what kind of meat to substitute anyway.

But, I was bored one night and started surfing the Internet. (I'm still amazed by how many blogs are out there on all of the stuff I'm interested in.) But, I found one that is amazing. Alinea at Home. This amazing woman who isn't a professional chef at all is cooking her way through the entire Alinea cookbook (with mixed results). I'm posting now because her most recent posting sounded amazing (minus the tuna... I hate tuna.) But, the marinade and glaze sound both amazing and like something that I could easily do at home. Maybe brush on some salmon or even a flank steak, and I bet it would be super tasty. I definitely have to try that one of these days when I have a lot of time and patience.

Maybe I'll even try my own hand at cooking my way through (at least part of) the Alinea cookbook. Any suggestions for where to start?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Being out of work isn't so bad...

... I have more time to cook! Today, with Joel off to another Metallica concert tonight, I made lunch. Pumpkin soup from scratch.

At the end of the fall, we got a couple gorgeous organic pumpkins from our local CSA delivery service. I roasted them, pureed them, and froze the puree so that we could enjoy pumpkin all winter when local fresh veggies aren't available.

I love making pumpkin soup, and I had this amazing recipe I found a few months ago. I tweaked it, wrote it out with my tweaks, and now I have no idea where that recipe is. I'm sure I put it somewhere for safe-keeping, but when I put something somewhere for safe-keeping, I usually end up finding it years later. So, I tried to do it from memory. Today, this soup ended up more spicy than sweet like it should be. I think part of it has to do with me not letting it cook long enough to let the spices merge. Hopefully, the leftovers tomorrow will end up tasting better once the spices mesh a bit more.

Anyway, I sauted some fresh (organic) minced onion in a little bit of butter. Then, I added the pumpkin puree, about 4 cups of organic chicken broth (chicken stock gives it a richer taste, but I didn't have any, and if you want to make it vegetarian, veggie broth or stock works wonderfully, too.) I let it cook a bit and added a bunch of stuff: Chinese 5-spice, extra cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, white pepper, kosher salt, a little bit of soy sauce, and some sherry. All of it to taste. I didn't measure anything, really... just tasted it a lot as it went. At the end, I blended it with a hand-held blender (the best purchase ever), and whisked in some skim milk. (Joel and I are trying to eat healthier, so I didn't use heavy cream, which would have made it a richer, smoother soup, and I highly recommend it if you're not on a diet.)

If I find my "real" recipe, I'll make it again and post the right list of ingredients if you want a sweeter soup. This one would have tasted better--sweeter--if I would have added an apple to the broth (didn't have any). I would highly recommend it, though, if you try to replicate this recipe.

One day this week I'm hoping to break out my mom's famous cashew chicken recipe, and once I do, I'll post the results.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sorry it's been a few days...

... the only think I've cooked since the last time I posted has been mac and cheese, and it's from a box, so that's just not even worth the time to sign in.

Tonight, I almost cooked cashew chicken, but then Joel reminded me that he was going to see Metallica tonight, so there goes that idea. Instead, I whipped up a quick (but from scratch) spaghetti sauce. To my Italian readers, I apologize, but to everyone else it's not a bad last minute dish. I didn't bother to take a photo... it's red sauce.

But, what I did. Olive oil at the bottom of a wonderful brand new Calphalon pan (if you're considering getting married, the gifts are one of the best parts... well, that and ending up with a wonderful husband.) Spoonful of minced garlic. Usually I mince it myself, but when I don't feel like making a mess, Trader Joes actually sells it by the small jar, and I keep in the fridge for simple recipes like this. Add a can on crushed tomatoes, a can of tomato paste, a bunch of spices to taste (I used salt, red pepper, oregano, parsley, onion powder, and sugar.) Add some red wine. (I also keep a bottle of red cooking wine in the fridge so I don't have to open a bottle if I don't want to.) Cook it all down. (Don't forget your splatter guard!) Then stir in some parmesan and serve over a pasta of your choice. (Joel wanted bowtie pasta, so that's what we had.)

Anyway, that was it, nothing too exciting. However, now that I've left my full-time position to try my hand at freelance writing and hopefully pick up something part-time in the nonprofit field, I should have more time to cook.

Today I got a new Cook's Illustrated, though, so I can't wait to sit down and read... and test out their recipes.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top Chef 1/14/09

Who is obsessed with Top Chef? (Okay, I really enjoy Hell's Kitchen too... who doesn't love Gordon Ramsay, but I don't know when that's going to be on again.) But, Top Chef is the best real cooking reality tv show out there right now.

I'm not going to recap episodes. If you want a good recap, I'm sure Television without Pity has something, or the official Top Chef website might have it. But, I am going to comment on something one of the contestants said.

Jamie--a San Franciso chef--freaked out with the Quick Fire challenge. The challenge: to cook a dish only using food found in most homes. (For example, canned vegetables.) She went on and on about how she's a real chef and cannot believe she has to cook with such low quality food. (That's where I got turned off.) It would be great if everyone could afford the best fresh produce and the best cuts of meats (scallops are her favorite, and maybe all she can actually cook), but the reality is, with the economy what it is, a lot of people are only able to get veggies on the table for their children if they buy that can of peas or green beans.

That's the difference between "real chefs" and those of us who are just regular, old home cooks. We are much more versatile. I love the free-range meat and organic vegetables that my husband and I get from two local CSAs, and I love the opportunity to experiment with these foods and try new types of vegetables. (Although I'm much better to the lamb we get than these so-called professionals were last night.)

But, at the same time, we're on a budget (especially now that I'm freelancing full-time), so I also know that I need to cook out of the cupboard when I'm running low on fresh. For my shephard's pie, I use a bag of frozen peas, and when I make soup, I usually use Swanson's broth or stock instead of making my own from scratch. Maybe it's not the way a "real" chef would do it, but I think it's the way most people in this country do it every night and only a snob would think that the ingredients were beneath her.

Any opinions? I'd love to hear your comments.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Working from home today

Even when I work at home, I make sure to give myself a lunch break. (My eyes need a break from staring at words on a computer screen all day.) I just finished making a super-quick, super-easy, fairly healthy meal that would also work well for an easy dinner if anyone's looking for ideas.
It took about 15 minutes to prep everything. Yep... 15 minutes. Then it cooks or sits, and when it's done, you eat.
First, I'm roasting half of a chicken. (Another piece of meat from the local meat CSA we're part of from Wisconsin... seriously, the way to go if you eat meat but want to contribute to your local eating community.) All I did... wash it... put it in a casserole dish on top of about six cloves of garlic and a lemon that I eighthed. Cook at 400 degrees until done. (I do the old fashioned, prick-with-a-fork-and-see-if-it-bleeds method of testing. I guess if you want to, you can just take it's temperature... my way is much more exciting, and I have yet to poison anyone. Knock on wood.)
Then, I made some fresh hummus... I love my Cuisanart food processor, which was a great gift at my bridal shower. (See, another great reason to get married... all the kitchen supplies you get stocked up with.) Dump a can of garbanzo beans, equal parts olive oil, water, and tahini, some garlic (or whatever you want to flavor it with... I'm a garlic addict), salt, pepper, and hit the "on" button while you clean up. In about 60 seconds, you have it... hummus!
Then, as a special treat, I also made fresh pita chips. (Seriously, I'm still under 15 minutes for all of this... really, I promise.) Cut up some pita... lather on some olive oil and some kosher salt... bake for 5 minutes (at whatever temperature your oven is already set to)... flip them, coat them again, and bake again for another 5 minutes. Yummy!

And, I still have some time left in my lunch break to eat. (And I've gotten a bunch of pages of a book edited while waiting for it to cook, too... even better!)

On a side note... anyone out there a fan of Top Chef? It's Wednesday and there's a new episode tonight. Right now, no one is standing out to me like in previous years (I loved Richard last year, but it's because I'm hooked on Alinea and that's his style of cooking too... But I was happy a Chicago girl won... Makes up for the Cubs not being able to win with the other team blindfolded. Go Chicago!) I can't wait to see what they cook tonight, though. The Top Chef cookbook was out of stock on when I tried to buy it, so I'll have to wait and see if I can order it from somewhere else. (Just don't tell Joel I want to add another cookbook to my collection.)

Monday, January 12, 2009

The only night Joel is home this week

So, I made Tangerine Beef. Here's the photograph. Please forgive the use of my pasta bowls. (I love these bowls. Thanks to Stefanie G. who gave them to me as a Christmas present one year.) But, obviously, this isn't a pasta dish.

Technically, I got the idea for the meal out of the All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook (see my favorites), but I was out of most of the ingredients it called for (like vegetables... I need to go to the grocery store), so I made it up myself.

Here's what you need for my version...

  • ... Sirloin Steak (it's steak from the freezer that we had saved from our locally-raised and butchered beef)
  • Tangerines (3-ish)
  • Red Pepper
  • Tobasco
  • Ginger (I used the Chinese ginger out of my spice cabinet since my fresh ginger didn't look so great)
  • Fresh Garlic cloves (I always keep this on hand)
  • Cornstarch
  • Soy Sauce
  • Teriyaki Sauce
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Sugar
Basically, what you do is grate some of the peel off of the tangerine with a microplane (or you can cut slices... I wanted an excuse to use the new microplane I got from our wedding.) And fry it up quickly in some vegetable 0il. Remove as much as you can. Then, add the thinly-sliced beef (lightly coated in cornstarch), and stir-fry quickly. Joel likes his beef rare, so I only cooked it for long enough to brown each piece on both sides... maybe 2 minutes on each side. Add the beef to the bowl with the tangerine peel. Add the sauce to the hot skillet (combine juice of one tangerine, soy sauce, teriyaki, ginger, garlic, a little cornstarch, red pepper, sugar, and tabasco), and bring to boil. Add the beef back and mix together until hot. Pour into a bowl, and add the tangerine segments. Serve hot.

I don't usually measure when I cook this kind of dish... I just make sure to taste as I go. However, one thing was strange in this dish... the sauce was nice and spicy before I added it to the skillet, but after I heated it up, the spiciness kind of went away. Anyone know why that happened or I could keep it from happening in the future? Any advice on how I can keep it spicy would be appreciated.

This dish was very tasty, although it would have been better if I had some vegetables in the house that I could have stir-fried with it... baby corn, pea pods, red peppers, water chestnuts, etc.... but, regardless, the flavor was very good. There' nothing left... no leftovers, no nothing. That's what I call a successful dish!

Tomorrow night, I'm not sure if I will cook. Joel's gone the rest of the week, we have a dinner event at the Standard Club on Wednesday night, and I almost never cook when I'm home alone... I just eat whatever I find laying around. I much prefer to cook for a crowd, but my favorite person to cook for, of course, is Joel.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Welcome to My Cooking Adventures!

Welcome to my adventures in cooking. Unfortunately, I went to law school instead of cultinary school, so the best I've turned into is a pretty decent home cook. Now that I've left my full-time job, I've decided to start this blog.

After this last holiday season (and getting married to a wonderful man who enables my cookbook and cooking tools addiction), I own close to 100 cookbooks, which I really need an excuse to sit down and read and cook from. I also have subscriptions to Cooks Illustrated, Fine Cooking, Gourmet Magazine, and Food and Wine Magazine, so I literally have thousands of recipes I am dying to try.

This blog will track my cooking efforts... both those that are successful and those that don't quite make the grade (or the dinner table). And, I'll review a bunch of cookbooks along the way so you can decide which books you might be interested in adding to your own cookbook library.

Thank you so much for coming along on this journey with me.